ETWA|Ch9a: A Power Play

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Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.

“Putta, come eat ma”, Vímala coaxed Sam. It was almost tea time. Sam had started skipping meals on the pretext of board exam prep. “You carry on Mama. This is a timed prep test. I’ll eat once I am done”, she would say. And her parents let her make excuses so that they could all avoid the awkwardness at the table.

“Vimala, I’ll finish this chapter and then eat”, when Sam started with her excuses, Vimala, their house help, would shut her books announcing to the room, “How much will she study? So many people have written these exams. Nothing to worry”. She had been working with Sam’s parents since Sam was a baby. She was well versed in all of Sam’s moods and mechanisms. Six days a week, Vimala came early in the morning, helping Sreeja with the chores. Once she had breakfast around 1030 am, she headed over to Sudha’s house next door. By tea time, Vimala would be back here to clean up and help with dinner. And by 6 pm she left for Sudha’s house again to help out there. 

In a house, the kitchen is many things at once. It’s a battleground and a prison. But it is also a haven and a confessional. No part of life is out of bounds in a kitchen. Everything gets discussed here. And the kitchen was Vimala’s office. Whether they liked it or not, she knew everything about this family. Vimala was around when Sreeja and Vineeth got pregnant with Sam and were deciding whether to keep her. She was here when Sam took her first steps. She remembers missing Sam at home when she started school. And Vimala was washing dishes the other day when Vineeth came home and broke the news that changed Sam’s life. This was her workplace and she took pride in knowing the ins and outs of this family. 

“Come, come, come. First eat, then work”, she insisted before Sam could protest. She turned to Achams, “Amma, you tell her. You need strength even to worry, no?”. Vimala had a way with people. She was a middle-aged woman in a neatly pinned up sari with a severe bun that pulled her hair away from her face. She wore a red rose flower in her hair everyday and had a smile that lit up her eyes. “Good morning ma, how are you ma?” she would greet everyone in a single breath.  

As Sam sat down at the table, Vimala served her rice and sambar. When she began eating, Vimala presented her with a card. It had a picture of the goddess Mariamman. “Keep this under your pillow. She will protect you”, she said, turning the card over and pointing to the hymn inscribed there, “Pray to her everyday for 14 days. She will take care of you.”

…don’t buy flowers today ma, your husband has bought’. Then only I knew something was wrong. In these many years, he has not bought me a safety pin. Aaahaha, flowers it seems!

“I’ll tell you a story. My husband and I got married so long back that Rajinikanth still had his natural hair then.” Both Vimala and Sam knew that this story would make Sam laugh. She had heard it a thousand times from Vimala and laughed out loud each time. But this time Sam flashed a thin, vague smile. The effort made her sigh. But Vimala continued, “When he first started hitting me, it was to the tune of ‘naan autokraaran’ from Rajini’s film, Baasha. Do you know this song?” Sam shrugged in response. 

“First I thought that he hated me, auto drivers and Rajini. But with time I realised that he was crazy about Rajini, dreamt of being an auto driver and didn’t really care about me. He hit me when he got very drunk. And he got very drunk when he bunked work and went to watch the first day first show of Rajini films.” Sam was smiling now. 

“How did he hit you?” Sam asked, as was expected of her in this familiar sketch.

On cue, Vimala hitched up her sari and broke into a performance, “naan autokaaran autokaaran naalum therinja route kaaran, nyaya mulla rate kaaran”, imitating the thalaivar’s moves. Achams looked up from her book briefly and smiled. Sam laughed for the first time in days.

Once she was done, Vimala hunched closer and in a conspiratorial tone, continued, “A couple of years back, my husband had another woman”. She looked around to make sure no one else was listening. “I got to know from the akka near the temple who sells flowers. One day when I went to her as usual to buy flowers for my hair, she said with a naughty smile, ‘don’t buy flowers today ma, your husband has bought’. Then only I knew something was wrong. In these many years, he has not bought me a safety pin. Aaahaha, flowers it seems!” she scoffed. 

“That evening I prayed to Mariamma, told her all my worries. And she made that woman leave him in one week’s time. I am serious. One week! She told him that Amman came in her dreams and asked her to stay away from him. One night when he was drunk, he only told me ma. Believe me. Amman will take care of you”, she insisted, folding her hands in prayer. 

“Coming Sunday, I will go to the kovil near HBR layout. Little far it is. It will take time. Not possible on other days. But I will go and pray for you, ma. Don’t worry.” she said quickly as if she were running out of time.

“Vimala…”, came Sreeja’s call from the kitchen, where she was beginning to prepare dinner while eavesdropping on their conversation.

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